I got the call from the hospice nurse there was a sudden decline and went after work to my parents house. The two nurses and an aide were there as well as my sister and sister-in-law and Mom.
I had to pee.
Preface: My Mom decided to replace all the interior doors a month prior to my dad’s decline.
I went to one of two bathrooms at the house and when I went to close the door I realized there was no doorknob. Just a big hole where the doorknob should be. It also would not stay closed. So I shoved a towel in the hole and shoved some more on the floor to help hold the door shut. Then I peed.
I relayed my doorknob issue to my mom at one point and she agreed that there were in fact no doorknobs on any of the doors yet. The towels did the trick though.
Then we were all sitting around my dad’s bed. Watching him labor to breathe and we realized it was rather chilly. The furnace died.
After we made that realization there were a few seconds of silence, and I broke it with the statement, “No heat. No doorknobs.” Another few seconds of silence and then we all cracked up laughing.
The problem with being a nurse who has worked with the dying is I knew the timeline. I knew when I saw my Dad that night with the heat and doorknobs that it wouldn’t be that night.
I told my wife I predicted another 24 hours. And exactly 23 and a half hours later he passed. His color was still too good that Friday night and his skin still looked normal-ish, and roughly 22 hours later his skin looked different, darker, the pre-death look. And his breathing was more ragged. He also had the smell. The smell of a dying body is distinct.
I went home Friday night and took my time getting ready the next morning. With a feeling of foreboding I took a shower and picked out my clothes carefully, because what does one where to the death of their father? Black? Pastels? Casual or more formal? It was bizarre that I was even thinking that but I was. Then we got the boys in the car and my wife took her car too, as they would leave earlier than I.
We were driving up a main route and I saw a car coming toward me with flashing lights. It was a long line of cars with flashing lights, they all had a orange signs in their windows, “Funeral”. It wasn’t lost on me that the universe placed a massive funeral procession across from me as I drove to see my Dad for what I suspected would be the last time.
It was a long day. We kept it as normal as possible for my kids and my niece. We all played outside in the backyard, we had the boys nap in their sleeping bags in the guest rooms and we made sandwiches for lunch. All along though my dad was in their room, on oxygen, not conscious, and laboring to breathe, as he prepared to die. The boys and my niece would randomly run in and out of his room and ask about him sleeping and being sick.
At one point outside the kids were picking little purple flowers and putting them in our hair and their hair. Later I walked in to check on my Dad and my son Jackson had apparently placed one of the purple flowers on the bed with my dad just at the tip of his fingers.
I saw it and smiled and told my Dad it was there and we left it there all day until he died.
He waited. He waited for my kids and wife to leave; he waited for my sister and niece to leave, and for my mom’s friend to come and be with her. He always told me that he preferred me with him whenever he was admitted to the hospital. Said I was the most calm.
He knew I was the one who would handle him dying. That I wouldn’t’ want my kids there. That I would make sure he was comfortable.
I had this sort of detached feeling that whole two hours at the end. Like I knew it was coming but couldn’t process it or verbalize it at all. I just ran through the motions of existing and being aware of his increase in agitation and giving him more pain meds and telling him it was time to go. My mom and her friend and I sat chatting in between checking on him and trying to eat dinner. Trying to be normal.
My sons knew something was up that day. Especially after nap time. They were irritable and hyper. When they went to leave my son Jackson, who never says good-bye, ran into my dad’s room and said, “Bye Poppy,” very forcefully and purposefully. He stood there with me and looked right at my dad and repeated it, “Bye Poppy.” Then he looked at me and I said, “Good job baby, he’s sleeping, but he heard you,” and then Jackson marched from the room ready to go.
Somewhere in his little heart he knew.
Later that night I came home and smiled thinking of this morning when I picked out my outfit and I peeled it all off and put on the flannel button down I took from my dad’s closet before I left my parents house.
My Dad’s death is devastating to me, but watching him live with dementia for the last two years was was equally devastating. It’s been bittersweet on so many levels. I miss him, but I missed him before, as the disease took his brain and personality. I wish for more time with the man he was but I also wish him peace as he was suffering.
When I saw that he wasn’t breathing and knowing I had just been in the room not ten minutes earlier and I had been telling him it was okay to go for the last day; it was an acute pain and grief such that I never felt before. But I’m glad I was there for him. I’m glad he’s at rest.
What I will remember of my dad’s last day is the way he smiled when he heard Declan come in and say “Hi Poppy,” very loudly. It was the last time I would see him smile. I will remember a small purple flower on his bed left by little hands saying good-bye in their own way. I will remember curling up in my bed in his thick flannel shirt.
I will remember his death because it was a few days of waiting, but that was after two years of watching him slowly slip away. I hope that after this acute pain fades I will not think of his death but of his life. My Dad’s life revolved around loving his family.
I am at peace knowing the love of his family surrounded him in his death.
With much love…rest easy Dad.